Proposal for an Anthology of Alternative Autobiographies in America

This book will be devoted to writings by Americans who chose alternatives to a conventional chronology, written in prosaic prose, to represent essential experience in their lives--Americans who did things very special in autobiographical style and form. These selections would be prefaced by the editor's headnotes. Preliminary choices for such an anthology would include:

Captain John Smith, excerpt from A Description of New England (1616)

Anne Bradstreet, short prose fragment, 2 pp.

Henry David Thoreau, excerpts

Abraham Lincoln, "Second Inaugural Address" (March 4, 1856)

Walt Whitman, excerpts from Song of Myself

Mark Twain, "The Awful German Language," A Tramp Abroad, 14 pp.

Charles Ives, "Epilogue," from Essays Before a Sonata (1920)

Gertrude Stein, "A Lyrical Opera Made by Two" (1928), Operas & Plays (1988), 12pp

Emma Goldman, "Was My Life Worth Living?" Harper's (December 1934), 13 pp.

James Agee, "Plans for Work 1937", The Collected Short Prose (1969), 18 pp.

Richard Wright, "The Ethics of Jim Crow," Uncle Tom's Children (1938), 10 pp.

Henry Miller, "Autobiographical Note," The Cosmological Eye (1939), 6 pp.

Edmund Wilson, "Thoughts on Being Bibliographed" (1943), 14 pp.

William Faulkner, "1699-1945 The Compsons," in Malcolm Cowley, ed., The Portable Faulkner (Viking, 1946), 18 pp.

Alfred Kazin, "The Kitchen," from Walker in the City (1951), 25 pp

E. E. Cummings, "i & selfdiscovery," from Six Nonlectures (1953), 11 pp.

Carl van Vechten, "Literary Ladies I Have Known," Yale Library Gazette (c. 1950s)

William Carlos Williams, I Wanted To Write a Poem (1958), excerpts, 20 pp.

Robert Lowell, "92 Revere Street," from Life Studies (1959)

Brother Antoninus, "In Savage Wastes" (1962), 8 pp.

Ralph Ellison, "Hidden Name and Complex Fate," Shadow and Act (1964)

Ad Reinhardt, "Chronology" (1966)

Buckminster Fuller, "Chronofile," in Explorations (1967), 20 pp.

Robert Smithson, "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey," Artforum (December 1967), 12 pp.

Robert Rauschenberg, Autobiography (1967), 1 p.

Kenneth Burke, "On a Photo of Himself When Young," "Know Thyself," Collected Poems (1968), 2 pp.

Lucas Samaras, "Autointerview," "Another Autointerview," Samaras Album (Whitney Museum, 1971), 10 pp.

Vito Acconci, "Transference Zone" (1972), 3 pp.

Richard Meltzer, "The Cap Collector's Handbook," Gulchur (1973), 7 pp.

Adrian Piper, "Political Self-Portraits # 2 (race) & # 3 (class)" (1978, 80)

Walter Abish, "Self-Portrait," from New Directions 39 (1979), 25 pp.

Sol Le Witt, excepts from Autobiography (1980), 14 pp.

Richard Kostelanetz, "Autochronology" (1980), Autobiographien New York Berlin (1984)

Kenneth Koch, "To Marina," Selected Poems (1982), 4 pp.

David Antin, "Who's Listening Out There," tuning (New Directions, 1984), 25 pp.

John Cage, "Autobiography," Chicago Review (1988), 20 pp.

As an appendix, consider reprinting P. Adams Sitney's extraordinary critical essay from the first Millennium Film Journal on autobiography in avant-garde American film, since it describers alternative autobiographical representation.

Obviously once the book were contracted, other examples would turn up, while some of these would be discarded as too expensive for the permissions budget. Much depends upon publishing decisions regarding the size of the book and the permissions advance. (The editor expects to obtain all permissions and pay all fees, as is his custom with anthologies.) All criticisms and suggestions would be appreciated.

Especially since Alternative Autobiography in America is so different from previous anthologies of autobiography (e.g., Robert Lyons's, subtitled "A Reader for Writers," Oxford, 1977), it should appeal not only to general readers but to teachers particularly of courses devoted to American literature and autobiographical writing.